17 Secrets You Need to Know Before Planning a Trip to Hawaii

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Note from Laurie – I’m so excited about Shannon’s post on her recent trip today! We’re dreaming of a trip to Hawaii ourselves, so I loved hearing her tips. If you’ve been to Hawaii before I’d love to hear your suggestions too!

 

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Recently my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in Hawaii.  Besides mission trips, this is the only major trip without the kiddos that we have taken since our honeymoon. So, for us to splurge and go on a trip that is not missional was definitely out of our comfort zone.  (And still is).  We live very frugally though, which allowed us to go on this trip debt free.

My husband is a planner.  He spent countless hours researching and asking me what I wanted to do, then made a schedule.  (Can anyone tell he is an engineer?)  Here are a few things we learned along the way . . .

1. Use Frequent Flyer Miles if you can.

If you have frequent flyer miles with an airline you may want to see if you can score a free ticket. If you don’t have them, sign up before your trip since points to Hawaii would be a great start towards another trip.

2. Use websites like hotels.com, travelocity.com, tripadvisor.com, or expedia.com to find discounted hotel rates.

Also, talk about your plans to others who’ve been, and see if they have suggestions on places to stay (and possibly even family discounts they can offer you if they have family nearby.) 

3. Decide whether to rent a car (saving time) or take the bus (saving money.)

Hawaii has a great bus system, and we debated whether we should take advantage of it to save a little money or splurge on a car. After talking with some friends we decided to rent a convertible, but used the cheapest rental car discounte we could find.

Some good friends of ours said if we were going to rent a car, make it a convertible while you have the chance.  Since we were staying for several days we got a discount by using the weekly rate , and we didn’t waste travel time waiting on the bus.

Still, take into consideration that most hotels have pricey parking fees, and gas may be more expensive than you’re used to (although we used less than a tank for the whole trip).  Also, several areas of Waikiki did not have parking, so we had to walk to most of restaurants at night.

sunset

4. To Hop or Not to Hop?

A lot of people island-hop when visiting Hawaii, staying at one for a few days then going to another.  We decided to stay at Oahu only, which gave us time to see the entire island. Obviously you’d get to see more islands by island hopping, but it would cost more money and give you less time to enjoy each area, so just be mindful of that before you go.

5. Determine the best season to go to Hawaii.

During the peak season in Hawaii you’ll see significantly more traffic and things tend to me much more expensive. Fall and Spring tend to have less traffic, but do your research to find the best time of year to go. Go HERE to learn more.

6. Groceries are expensive in Hawaii.

Oh my goodness . . . I could write a whole post on groceries in Hawaii!  Food is just expensive there . . . like crazy expensive.

Expect to pay $7.69 milk on sale and $7.99 for a box of Frosted Flakes.  We decided that we didn’t want to eat at fast food restaurants or places that we have near our home, so most meals cost $50-$60.

However, before leaving for Hawaii I packed granola, flax seed, peanut butter, Flat-out bread, and lots of snacks (protein bars, granola bars) in our suitcases.  Once there we took advantage of our hotel’s mini-fridge and spent $20 on milk, yogurt, individual size cereal, bananas, and chips.  While those groceries were still expensive, that $20 covered most of our breakfasts and several lunches, saving us $300 and several hours waiting at restaurants to eat.

7. You won’t catch a bargain eating out.

Honestly, there just weren’t many ways to save while eating out.  But Yelp and Zomato are great places to check for ratings, reviews, menus, locations, etc., so we did take advantage of those sites.

My favorite restaurant was this awesome little Italian place we found called Buona Sera in Kailua.  We also really enjoyed Big Kahuna’s Pizza in Honolulu (and apparently everyone else does too!)

 

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8. Bring your own water bottle.

Bringing your own water bottle will save big in the airports and throughout your trip.  Airport security allows you to bring an empty thermos when you travel, and then just fill it up once you’re through to your gates.

Our hotel had a water filter in the lobby, so we filled up every morning before leaving and while site seeing we found water fountains to fill up.

This saved us a lot of money.  (At the Dole Plantation a bottle of water is $4 ~ crazy!)

9. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a must see.

Order tickets online the day before you plan to visit for $3.  1300 free tickets are given out daily too, but for the cheap online rental rate you can guarantee your tour time instead of chancing having to wait for a couple of hours.

Visiting Pearl Harbor was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, which I totally didn’t expect. Definitely include a few hours as you’re making your plans!

10. Budget money for snorkeling.

You can rent snorkeling gear for $20 per person at Hanauma Bay, however we decided to purchase our own gear instead while we were there. (You could easily bring this with you in your suitcase and save money by purchasing in the states.)

Before our trip I bought waterproof cameras for $9 at Wal-Mart, compared to $18 in Hawaii.

11. Take a few hours to go kayaking.

We had fun kayaking at Kailua Beach and got a 15% discount by reserving online at Kailua Beach Adventures.  The waves were crazy and starting out was hard, but once we got going it was fun.  I told my husband it should be a marriage builder experiment. 🙂

 

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12. Don’t miss Diamond Head.

My husband and I decided to walk from our hotel all the way to the top of the mountain and back which was about 3 hours total.  The one tip I’ll offer for easier accessibility is when you get near the top of the mountain top and see a steep staircase to the right, go left instead. (Trust me on this.)  Diamond Head only costs $1 per person for walkers or $5 for parking.

13. Hiking in Hawaii is incredible.

In addition to hiking at Diamond Head we hiked Manoa Falls to see the most beautiful waterfall.  It is a must!  And all you had to pay is $5 for parking.

14. Everyone says you have to go to a Luau while in Hawaii.

Luaus are pretty expensive in Hawaii, and we chose a highly rated one during our trip. Honestly, we didn’t enjoy it as much as we’d hoped, and if you’re not into dancing this may be something you can skip.

15. The beaches were gorgeous.

I grew up in Florida, but their beaches just can’t compare to the six beaches we saw in Hawaii.  In addition to the beautiful beaches the mountains are right there, so you really get the best of both worlds.

My favorite beaches were Hanauma Bay down South and Waimea Bay on the North Shore.  The waves were awesome on the North Shore, and you can watch the surfers for free entertainment.shannon

16. Dole Plantation is a must, simply for their famous Dole Whip.

Okay, I love pineapple, and their Dole Whips are just incredible. They also have the world’s largest maze which was super fun, because my husband did the guiding.  We would still be lost if I navigated.  🙂

17. There is an awesome swap meet at the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to get souvenirs for you and the family.

The prices are great (especially for Hawaii), and the people didn’t pressure you at all.  Definitely do this instead of souvenir shopping for souvenirs at all the expensive tourist stores.

 I hope this helps if you’re dreaming up a trip to Hawaii soon!  I’ve you have any tips or questions I’d love to hear them ~ leave a comment to share. 

 

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Looking for more travel tips? Check out these 7 things you need to know before bidding at Priceline and Hotwire. 

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Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    I have been twice. My husband and I got married there and it was so wonderful we went back 3 years later. My husband for for the Army and we stayed at the Hale Koa, it is cheap and beautiful. If you have military base access you can go to the Hickham MWR for all tickets needed at a highly discounted rate.

  2. Traci Hodges says:

    We went on a trip to Oahu and saved a ton of money renting a house instead of staying in a hotel. We stayed in Kanoehe, HI and there was an affordable grocery store around the corner and we were able to cook many meals including bbqing which was nice. We had a three generation family reunion of 13 and most had their own bed and bathroom. We also had our own pool and spa to use. Most of our attractions on north shore were free. We used entertainment coupons for the Polynesian Center and saved tons and chose the Luau dinner. This saved us a ton of money to have the all day excursion, Luau dinner, and the night show. Staying away from Wakiki saved us tons of money and we had a wonderful trip!!

  3. What is #17?

    • Hey Serena! #17 There is an awesome swap meet at the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to get souvenirs for you and the family.
      The prices are great (especially for Hawaii), and the people didn’t pressure you at all. Definitely do this instead of souvenir shopping for souvenirs at all the expensive tourist stores.

  4. Definitely going to pack some grocery essentials for Hawaii. My husband was born on the island and has visited a couple of times throughout his life, but I’m obsessed with the idea of us going to all of the island. The Hawaiian Airlines barclay card is offering a 40,000 mile sign on bonus right now so we’ve thought about both applying for it to redeem the bonus. Great Read!

  5. Aloha! Check out redweek or VRBO for lodging. See if perhaps a hotel you want to go to also has timeshares (like the Hilton Waikiki). We go every year, but we usually go to Kauai. We stay at the Marriott Beach Club in Lihue which is a hotel and a timeshare resort. Booking through people that own timeshares, we haven’t paid more than $1100 for a room, whereas booking through the hotel will usually cost at least double that. Also, if you want to experience Waikiki for a couple days, look at redweek or vrbo. Personally, while staying in Waikiki, I wouldn’t rent a car as parking is expensive. You can find a good rate on a car for the day, the day of as well. If you only go to Oahu, and don’t enjoy it that much, don’t let it turn you off from experiencing the other islands. Also, instead of flying into some of the other islands, it can *sometimes* be cheaper to fly directly into Oahu, then buy a ticket to the other island.

  6. Love all these great ideas. My son lives on Oahu so I’m always looking for inexpensive ways to travel and visit. Appreciate the tips!!

  7. Sometimes groceries are a little cheaper at the drug stores (Walgreens). Quite often restaurant meals are so large, you take half home for another meal. Love the Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Beth Dennin says:

    Check for when the local farmer’s markets are going on. You can get great local fruits & veggies to eat through out your trip. Yes, pack or buy breakfast & some snack items, starts your day off right then you only have to “go out” for lunch/dinner. The water bottle idea is a must. Besides checking discount sites for your adventures, call the company directly. Many are small businesses & will match the price from a discount site & guarantee your tickets/reservations.

  9. I lived in Hawaii in the 90’s and have visited several times over the years. The one thing that I disagree on in the article is the island hopping. Once you land in Oahu, you can get a fairly reasonable rate on a hop to another island, with a car and hotel if preferred. I personally tell EVERYONE that if you get the chance, spring for the extra money and hop over to the Big Island (Hawaii) for the volcano. No where else will you experience such beauty, such power. It’s magnificent and probably the coolest thing I’ve ever witnessed. You can walk all over it, there are trails, steam rising through the cracks, fauna, just sheer raw beauty. I’ve visited 49 states and several countries, but the Kilauea Volcano is by far #1 on my list of awesome.

  10. Great information! We lived in Kailua for 2 years and I just had to add a few things to your list. If you like hikes you have to do the lighthouse hike! It is paved all the way which makes it a little easier considering it is uphill the entire way and you can see whales since this is where they go to have their babies. There is amazing views all along this hike!
    Also the Pillbox hike near Kailua. Once again all uphill and the first little bit is kinda steep, but if this outa shape girl can do it anybody can! Amazing views!!! Also after your hike you can walk a block right onto one of the best beaches to cool off. I totally recommend it!
    I was not too impressed with the Dole Plantation, or the Dole whips. But if you love pineapples you will love it.
    Whenever family would visit we would take them to the Polinesian Cultural Center. It is hours of fun for the kids, learning about the many cultures that contribute to hawaii and projects to keep them happy, The luau is fun and gives you a chance to try many local foods like poi and poke (po-kay). Then the show (Ha- Breath Of Life) after the luau was amazing. The only problem was with the time change our guests would get very tired halfway through the show. But the second half is worth staying awake for!
    We stayed at the Wave in waikiki a few times. The hotel is nice, nice staff, you can’t see the ocean but it is only a few short blocks away (easy walking distance). And best of all it is very cheap for the area.
    Kailua beach was by far my favorite to take my kids to and just a little bit down the road from it is Kalama beach which is even less populated. The waves are a tiny bit higher but it is where locals go to walk in the mornings. So relaxing!!! Also we saw sea turtles swimming by often. (Remember no touching the sea turtles though)
    Ok, I will stop. I could go on and on.
    Thanks

  11. Barb Nielsen says:

    Everyone should see Hawaii at least once. I’ve been fortunate to have visited 3 times and I’ve stayed on Oahu, Mauai, the Big Island and Kauai. They’re all beautiful. Not sure which is my favorite because they all have something different to offer. Using airline points is how we flew cheaper, as well. And the last time we went we rented a condo off VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) which allows you to find something more reasonably priced, plus, you have a full kitchen, which helps, because as you pointed out, groceries are ridiculously expensive. Hotels are so expensive and I don’t think Hawaii has all-inclusive at all. My husband and I have rented from VRBO for 20 years and always have a great experience. I also agree with the luau tip. I’ve been to two and was not really impressed by either. Maybe go once so you can say you’ve been but once is probably enough. And yes, definitely rent a convertible.

  12. Natalie says:

    Planning a hunnymoon to Hawaii right now! I always thought you had to sign up for some special credit card to get airline miles? I love the reccomendation for us to do this as we are flying from Maine and racking up I think 16 hours of flight time on our way there each! So should I decide my airline and flight first and sign up with that company specifically or is there a generic airline miles thing I sign up for that adds miles from any airplane company? Help educate me on airline miles !!:)

    • Did you learn about the credit card miles programs? We’ ve been using them for a while and can help. If I’m too late, I apologize. Hawaiian air has a Barclay bank MasterCard which offers 35000-50000 miles (depends on when you sign up) after spending I think $1000 over the first couple months. A coach seat is usually 30000 miles. After we got our miles we used that card only occasionally. American air has a similar MasterCard program. (Also a visa program, and once your get your miles on the first card you can apply for the other. The miles come from the airline so you can use both sets of miles). You get so many miles after so much in purchases. For both of these cards you need to sign up for the airlines loyalty program first. Only one person in the family should sign up. Otherwise whoever uses the card for a purchase gets the miles, and to share with the other person costs money. I am the member here and my husband can fly on my miles. Yes I know it makes no sense. And each program has portals for shopping that give extra miles. Another card is a capital one venture. Each purchase gains you points (2 per dollar spent). Whe you travel, you book your flight or hotel or car rental and use the points to pay. The advantage of the airlines cards is free baggage, and a few other little perks. If you don’t have quite enough to miles, you can buy them. Also, with American, to sign up for a miles reward flight, you look at a chart which shows which days have available flights. On some days- and you do need to book early- there may be days when the miles requirement is much less, or you may be able to book business class for coach miles. Really nice if you’re flying to Europe- the seats are much more comfortable. The site will tell how many days before the flight that miles flight become available. I think American is 331 days. The Chase Sapphire card, which is well rated, is on the same idea but uses different airlines.

  13. I saved a ton of money by purchasing an Entertainment Book (discount and coupon book) for the area – there were plenty of coupons for restaurants and activities!

  14. Ok. The last 3 words of #10 are fightin’ words in Hawaii! Hawaii IS in the United States! We less fortunate souls live on THE MAINLAND!

  15. If you’re staying in the Waikiki area, take Bus 8 ($2) to Ala Moana and walk a few blocks to Walmart. The prices are reasonable (not much more than mainland prices). You can save a lot of money by doing that and not eating out all the time. If you get a bus transfer and watch your time, you can come back to Waikiki on Bus 8 for free.

  16. Renee Morris says:

    Tha no you so much!I am moving there soon Your tips and information will come in so handy…

  17. Laura Smith says:

    Some good tips! I have a couple of suggestions when it comes to Pearl Harbor. First, go there your first morning. Yes, I said morning. Like, try to get there by 6:15-6:30(ish) morning. If you get there that super-early you easily be able to catch the first tour. No waiting, fewer crowds, you will probably be able to score those free tickets and you’ll have crossed off one of the biggest tourist attractions on your list before your first breakfast in Hawaii. Since you’re probably going to be jetlagged anyway, it’s a great way to make that early morning work to your advantage. And second, if you got an orchid lei at the airport, from your hotel, etc. when you first arrived in Hawaii, bring it with you to the Arizona. This isn’t your typical tourist attraction — especially that first boat. I remember some people breaking their leis apart and sprinkling the flowers over the Arizona and it stuck out to me. it’s a great use for flowers that would otherwise go to waste and it really helps the whole experience sink in. I wish I had done it…so now these are the two biggest pieces of advice I give *anyone* who is about to go to Hawaii for the first time.

  18. Shirley H says:

    My husband and I just returned from a trip to Oahu and the Big Island. We rented a car and used the app GyPSy for iPhone. This app is the BEST! It is like having a guide in the car with you. We would have missed so many amazing things while driving both islands. I can’t recommend this app enough. I don’t remember how much it is, but I think it’s less than $10. That is my best tip for enjoying Hawaii!

  19. You realize of course that Hawaii is also a state? So when you say you purchased something “back in the states” it’s misleading. I’m pretty sure you mean “on the mainland.” Also Hawaii has some fabulous coupon books available at the airport for non-planners and Groupon also has many great discounts for plan-ahead folks.

  20. Yvonne Timm says:

    Went to the Big Island for my brother & sister in-laws 50th wedding anniversary with my husband, back about 4 years ago. Stay at a hotel that had all-inclusive breakfast. It was wonderful, had birds walking around the dinning area for it was open air area. Got to go to see the volcano and some of the native birds and animals. Before we left we did attend a Lua at the hotel and learned a lot about Hawaiian history. Then I went back two years later and stayed at Hale Koa on Oahu, I did have a car through the travel agency but parked it (hotel had a fee for parking that was added to the hotel room, not to bad, at the time) used the bus system there and took tours that I had planned before I left the mainland so I knew what else I could plan on doing there once I got there. Took the Dole tour and half the island tour one day and had a great time. I also took the tour of the palace, while the tour was great, the one tour guide could have been better. At least it was only about half the day. Also attended a lua at the Hale Koa and learned a few more things but this one was interesting because they honored all those who were and are military. Would have loved to have stayed a few more days, but did have time to do some shopping. Planning on going back again maybe to one of the other islands for a few days there and a few days on Oahu again. Loved the beaches on both island and even got to see the turtles coming ashore and going back out on the black beaches of the Big Island. Next time might take one of the whales watching tours, if I get there when the whales are in the area.

  21. Thank you for posting this!! I am going in June to Honolulu with my family. I have a young son (3) and my brother is taking his 5 year old. Any kid friendly places you might suggest?

    • Hey Avey! That is so exciting! I would make sure to put the Dole Plantation on the list of must go to! The flea market style shopping at Hawaii stadium was really good. The chiefs luau was really kid friendly. They had things for the kids to do before it started. Hope that’s a good start and helps! Hope you have a great time!

  22. I would suggest that besides pearl harbour Oahu is not really the island for a beautiful vacation. If you are going to Hawaii from mainland USA you have the option to fly direct to Maui or the big island. This is something we do not have the option of, from Australia we need to always fly through Oahu. Honolulu is a little to ‘built up’ and not relaxing enough to constitute a
    ‘Beach holiday’ in my opinion.
    If you are wanting to save money, I think a condo would work better as they have kitchen facilities, and you can always shop at Costco if you are staying long enough!!

  23. Carla Kraus says:

    My husband and I have been to Hawaii several times and have been fortunate enough to be able to use military accommodations. My suggestion is to visit the Big Island. It’s my personal favorite because it is so vast with differing climates, places to hike and enjoy the beach. It’s not as overrun with tourists as the other islands and lodging, food, restaurants, etc. are much more affordable (in comparison to the other islands.) You’ll likely need a rental vehicle on this island however as there are a lot of places to explore and I’m not sure if the bus system there is as efficient as the one in Waikiki or Honolulu.

  24. We did a 7 night cruise. Went to 4 islands. All meals included got to see lots of things. Would definitely recommend this the first time there. Then if you go back, you will know which island is best for you.

  25. Great tips – really if you have never been to Oahu before. If you are trying to eat healthier, a block and a bit from Wal-Mart near Ala Moana is an excellent green grocer – Don Quijote. On my first trip, I did stock up on many items at WalMart but veggies were very sparce….So I found this place 2 blocks away. Don’t be fooled by the tourist junk when you walk in…keep walking and you will find an excellent selection of groceries that won’t break the bank

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